All I wanted to do at the end of the lockdown was get my hands on a kit. I wanted heavy weights, punching bags, and even Pilates Reformer machines that I had never touched before. I wanted to be excited about working out by throwing myself in fancy studios and trying new classes.
That’s not to say that I was totally ready to overlook the slower pace of life I had adopted over the past year and a half. But I wanted to feel like my body was do something, rather than just going through the motions.
I thought everyone had the same mindset as me. But then friends told me they had no plans to return to the gym after realizing they preferred less pressurized home workouts. Statistics from boutique studio Blok also prove that slower practices are more popular than ever: it’s the most booked class since gyms reopened was yin yoga – the most still of all the practices.
I was puzzled. “Why do people pay to just … lie down?” I asked my editor Miranda. I couldn’t understand why people would want a slow, passive stretch after a year without IRL sessions. Couldn’t they do this at home? “There is so much more to yin than just layerYin fan Miranda proclaimed.
What are the benefits of Yin yoga?
Yin yoga is a restorative rather than an active practice. “It draws from a framework of traditional Chinese medicine and Eastern philosophy to tap into neglected areas of your body through meditation and long supports,” according to yoga instructor Claudia Mirallegro. “The emphasis on holding poses targets the connective tissues of the body; ligaments, tendons and fascia to improve circulation, increase joint mobilization and remove energy blockages to heal the body.
So far it sounds pretty good all about to lie down. But, the calm of the practice is not limited to your body, Claudia tells me. “Grounding in the present moment through yin yoga and mediation has really transformed my mind,” she says. In fact, everyone I talk to about yin tells me it’s the most holistic approach to healing – focusing on healing the body and mind.
In a 2018 Swedish study, five weeks of yin yoga resulted in significant reductions in adrenomedullin levels (a biomarker of cardiovascular health) as well as improved anxiety and sleep.
Its name alone shows how it is designed as the antidote to our everyday life. Miranda explains to me that the go-go-go of work, gym and socialization that I have inevitably fallen back into (or never really stopped?) Is ‘yang’. These are the active and dynamic movements of life. Yin is all about restoring body and mind by going slowly.
That’s why Claudia thinks it’s so popular after lockdown. “The past year has triggered feelings of restlessness and anxiety. Today more than ever, we recognize the importance of mental health, ”she says. “Life never slows down but continues to speed up even during a pandemic. Yin Yoga gives us permission to let go of our expectations, let go of control, and remind ourselves that a well-rested human being can accomplish much more than a tired being.
What Happens in a Yin Yoga Class?
To understand yin, I go to a Blok class myself. The mat comes with blocks, bolsters, and even a blanket, the latter one that I have certainly never encountered in a dynamic yoga session.
My instructor, Francesca, begins with a deep breath while lying on the mat. Then we go through lying and sitting poses (not standing here, thank you). In an hour of class, I count about five different poses. At any point in the session, Francesca tells us that we can ignore her instructions. That if we want, we can just take the blanket and lie down or strike a child’s pose rather than forcing our bodies into postures.
It’s unlike anything I’ve done before where the longest stretching time would be 30 seconds in a pigeon. During takes I find my mind start to wander for the first few minutes, getting lost in something stupid I said the last time I was socializing or the work email I didn’t respond to. . But then, as I held on longer, something happened: The feeling of stretching in my shoulders or hips was so intense that I had no choice but to focus on releasing. My mind is suddenly no longer distracted. I feel, for the first time in a long time, very present in my body.
It should be noted that while yin is about relaxation, it is not just about an aerial fairy. It hurts, and it hurts a lot. Holding a deep hip opener for five minutes will never be comfortable, but it was at times bordering on agony. Yet in the same way that strength training hurts satisfactorily, it was like a feat to sit in pain rather than give up.
I wouldn’t say I’m a transformed yogi, or that the halo of relaxation lasted longer than my bus ride home. But the class made me think about how much I really prioritize the art of doing nothing. While I believe in the power of days off and a good night’s sleep, I’m bad at going slow without feeling restless. Getting past my need to let my body and brain run at 100 mph was a pretty satisfying feeling, and I know I should let go more often. Turns out I could book a yin class again.